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Freshman 101: Your Guide To Downtown State College

As a freshman, coming to Penn State for the first time comes with an unprecedented amount of change. Not only are you leaving home for the first time to attend a new school at a new campus, but you’re entering a new town as well.

The once familiar landmark stops and shops of your hometown are suddenly hundreds of miles away. It’s a disorienting feeling. And, it can be difficult to acclimate yourself to the wonders of a new town with new restaurants, stores, and shops.

If you’re feeling a little bit (or a lot bit) overwhelmed by the plethora of local stores in downtown State College, never fear, you’re not alone. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing and it will take time to learn your way around. After all, that’s what being a freshman is all bout.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make things a little easier on yourself. If you’re smart enough, you’re checking out this all-inclusive guide to downtown right now. We’ve got your back and we’re here to make things a little easier on you as the new kid on the block.

Restaurants

We went over this pretty exhaustively in our guides last year about eating downtown and local drunk food, but here are the highlights:

The Waffle Shop: You’ll recognize The Waffle Shop by its yellow awning and long line that snakes down College on most weekends, especially during football season. It’s cash-only and serves up an impressive selection of breakfast food and sandwiches that’ll cure any hangover.

The Corner Room: A time-honored State College tradition, the Corner Room is the perfect place to go for a first date. Located on Allen Street, the Corner Room is open all day and offers a menu that has pretty much everything on it. However, the most important option is grilled stickies, which officially unofficially live here now.

The Tavern: The Tavern is a bit of a step up from the Corner Room and is pricier/more elegant, so maybe save it for when your parents are in town…or at least for a third or fourth date. The Tavern has a cool colonial setting and is a local history of sorts with all different artifacts hanging on the walls. They also do a big Sunday brunch, which is can’t-miss.

Yallah: On your first night of drinking in State College, take a trip to Yallah on Calder and order a quesadilla. You’ll thank me later. If you aren’t inebriated and it’s a reasonable hour, you can go to “New Yallah,” which is on McAllister Alley, indoors, and has a few more options.

Canyon: Another drunk food classic, Canyon is known for its dollar slices and has a line that stretches well down Beaver — perhaps even longer than the line for The Waffle Shop. Unlike Yallah, only go here when you’re drunk.

Irving’s/Bagel Crust: If good bagels are a food group in your diet, you’re in luck. State College has a few options when it comes to bagels, and you can take your pick in the ongoing debate of Irving’s or Bagel Crust. Bagel Crust recently added a late-night option, which is a game-changer, though.

Groceries

McLanahan’s

As someone who often finds herself busy (read: lazy), it’s difficult for me to make it to Giant or Wegmans once a week for groceries. While McLanahan’s doesn’t boast the most extensive grocery store options, it certainly has some. They’re a great go-to for a quick snack, handfuls of fruits and vegetables, or even just a box of cereal.

The great thing about McLans (as it’s been lovingly dubbed), is that it’s similar to a local Walmart. They have everything from over-the-counter medications to groceries to Penn State apparel to every other little knick-knack you can think of in between.

Target

Go ahead, breathe a sigh of release. Yes, we do in fact have a Target located downtown for easy access. Like McLans, it’s great for any grocery, or miscellaneous, items you might need on the fly.

Farmers Market

Throughout the spring, summer, and early fall, a pop-up farmers market takes over Locust Lane in downtown State College. It’s open every Tuesday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

The market features fresh fruits and veggies, meats and cheeses, and baked home goods among many other things. It’s a great way to get some fresh produce in your system after weeks of dining hall food.

Penn State Apparel

Student Bookstore

In addition to being one of the best (if only) places to gather school supplies, the Student Bookstore stocks its shelves with Penn State apparel and goodies, as well.

It’s definitely a great place to bring your parents when they’re visiting for a weekend since a lot of the merchandise they have makes a great addition to any dorm room. Prices might not always be the best, but that’s the point of bringing your parents to campus a part of being a Penn Stater!

Family Clothesline (and Outlet)

Family Clothesline is a great place to check out no matter what you’re on the hunt for. Some of their items are fairly inexpensive, while others — like jerseys and polos — are a bit pricier, but there’s always a nice mix of the two.

Plus, just a few blocks down, there’s a Clothesline outlet which has dozens of tanks and t-shirts for cheap. I’ve copped a vintage tee or two there in my time, and it’s always a must go place for me on Fridays before game day.

McLanahan’s

As I mentioned before, this store has everything. The shelves are stocked with dozens of Penn State shirts and tees and price them pretty reasonably.

Moreover, they cater the apparel to the season, even when it’s not football season. Thus they’ll have holiday-themed Penn State t-shirts around December and State Patty’s goodies in February. No matter the time of year, they’ll have something Penn State-themed.

Clothing Options

Urban Outfitters

If you have a little bit of extra money you can spend, Urban Outfitters is always a great go-to for a quick daylong or fratting outfit. Located right on College Avenue across, about a block down from Metro and Taco Bell.

Since Urban Outfitters is obviously a national clothing company, I won’t bore you with the details of what kind of clothes they sell — you likely already know. But it is always nice to know that an Urban is simply a short walk downtown away.

H&M

Much like with Urban Outfitters, if you’ve walked into a mall or shopping outlet within the past 15 years, you know what H&M is, so I won’t spend time droning on about the clothes they sell. However, it is important to note that if you’re a girl looking for a decent business suit or blazer, H&M has those babies for the low.

It’s also conveniently located below Target, another often frequented store in State College, so if you’re already in the area, H&M is only a short stop away.

People’s Nation and Metro

While these two are technically different stores, they’re essentially the same thing. I like to think of them as a cross between Urban Outfitters and H&M. They follow the same trend of clothing styles, but at a price that usually falls in between the two.

Plus, Metro has a great selection of pretty affordable heels, boots, and shoes, as well as an extensive clearance section that’s bound to make any fashion heart soar.

Harper’s

I won’t lie to you, Harper’s is expensive and it might be best to wait until your parents come to town to venture in there. If you need a nice new suit or blazer, Harpers will have you covered.

While you might need to shell out a couple hundred for, Harper’s does have some nice stuff, including Penn State apparel, so they’re worth a shot — especially if you want to look like you own substantial property.


While this isn’t an exhaustive guide to Downtown State College, it’s certainly a start. Over the course of your next four years here, you’ll eventually start to find your way around. You’ll learn your own little tips and tricks that will no longer make you feel like an outsider, but like someone who belongs in State College.

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About the Author

Emma Dieter

Emma is a senior from the ever-popular "right-outside" Philly area studying labor employment relations and PR. She's also the Student Life editor for Onward State. She has been a Penn Stater from cradle and will continue to bleed blue and white, 'til grave. She loves trashy romance novels, watching Netflix, and crying over cute videos of dogs. If you ever want to talk more with her about how great she is, or simply have other inquiries, feel free to email her at [email protected]

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